Voice of reason


Anand Patwardhan. PHOTO/ H.S. MANJUNATH

Interview with the documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan.

HE is as particular about the written word as he is about a frame in his film. Although they rankle and hurt, his films always ignite debate, discussion and dialogue. For the seasoned film-maker Anand Patwardhan, there are no half measures. He calls a spade a spade. One of the more robust voices against the rising tide of Hindutva, his eight-chapter, four-hour-long documentary Reason talks of the killing of rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, attacks on Muslims such as Mohammed Akhlaq and the underlying Brahminical agenda that is at the root of communal violence in contemporary India. In his usual unflustered way, he continues his fight for the soul of India. Excerpts from an interview:

“Reason” is unsettling and disturbing. It needed judicial intervention to be screened at a film festival in Kerala. How does one explain this?

It is easy to understand. The undemocratic, majoritarian forces whose past and present journey the film describes are not just in power today but in absolute control of all institutions. There are no checks and balances left in our system, only a few chinks in the armour that can be temporarily breached before these too are sealed.

The film is a scathing expose of Hindutva terror. Yet, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ridicule notions of Hindutva terror. They even fielded a terror accused to counter the narrative. Can you throw some light on the origin of Hindutva terror?

The modus operandi adopted by the Modi-Shah regime (all others fall in line) is to scream and shout as soon as anyone utters the words “Hindutva terror”. Against all evidence, people have long been fed on the idea that Hinduism by its very definition is tolerant and non-violent. The most glaring problem with this understanding is caste. Over thousands of years, orthodox (Brahminical) Hinduism rested on a violently enforced caste system that not only subjugated the weakest but was misogynist. Over the centuries, many reformists and revolutionaries rose against this oppression, from the Buddha to Kabir, Jyotirao Phule, Basava, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, B.R. Ambedkar and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to name just a few, but it certainly does not mean that Hindu culture itself became tolerant and non-violent.

If we delve into our history, we can find periods of hope for humanity, for example, the days of the Buddha and his amazing impact on Emperor Asoka. Such moments are not always remembered or celebrated in our history books. As I researched into historical archives while making Reason, I came across another, more recent, moment of potential human renaissance. I say potential because the moment was brief and was soon sidelined by the realpolitik of the day. Today, this moment has almost been forgotten.

What took me to the archives was a speech by Comrade Govind Pansare delivered at a memorial meeting that followed the murder of another rationalist, Dr Narendra Dabholkar. Pansare said the same ideology that had killed Mahatma Gandhi killed Dabholkar too. He then added a little-remembered fact. There were seven attempts made by Brahminists on the life of Gandhi. The first was a bomb attack on his motorcade in Pune as early as 1934. Narayan Apte was involved in that attempt. Apte was part of the attack that killed Gandhi in 1948.

In other words, Brahminists had been trying to kill Gandhi for well over a decade. In 1948, Nathuram Godse claimed that Gandhi was killed for favouring Muslims and because he was responsible for Partition and the creation of Pakistan. All Hindutva leaders and even some non-Hindutva players have so often repeated this calumny that it has become the received wisdom of the day. But, as Pansare pointed out, in 1934 neither Partition nor Pakistan had yet been thought of. It was clearly not because Gandhi was seen as an appeaser of Muslims that his death was ordered. So what was it that so angered the Brahminists apart from the fact that Gandhi had alienated them the day he publicly began to do manual scavenging, shattering the purity/pollution principle that lies at the heart of the caste system?

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